Main photo: Movement Festival, 2017 | Credit: thezenderagenda.com / via Creative Commons
When you think of Memorial Day weekend in Detroit, you have to start with Movement Festival. Formerly called the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the originally scrappy fest went pro and global a long time ago. Each year, partiers flood into Hart Plaza along the Detroit River, as well as bars across the city — it’s essentially the unofficial kickoff to summer in Detroit.
This year, things are a little bit different.
The real festival has been postponed to September, but as temps climb into the 80s and restrictions are lifted on small gatherings, it’s still feeling like the kickoff to a very strange summer. Fortunately, there’s a soundtrack for that — Moment organizers Paxahau put together a “Movement at Home” lineup, with DJs livestreaming all weekend. True to form, the sets go on until 3 a.m. They’ve got tips for festival eats to buy or make, and ideas to turn the weekend listening sessions into a whole shebang.
But obviously… it’s not really the same. We asked readers to share what they’re missing from fests of the past, their favorite Movement memories and what they’ll be thinking about while they’re at home wishing they were wearing a wristband.
Here’s what they told us they’re feeling nostalgic about — and what makes Movement so much more than a party. (Quotations lightly edited for clarity.)
“I remember Guy Called Gerald at the first edition when I was a lad and my parents took me; J.Phlip filling in last minute and WRECKING the Pyramid stage a couple years ago; double-fisting whiskey lemonades in the VIP… but honestly just the experience of walking towards the Fest when you start hearing the bass a few blocks away, gets me in the feels every time! –Nick Buz
“A bit of a late bloomer, my first Movement was 2012. I had just started DJing and had to go. I got there right at 2 PM when the gates open, not realizing that most people get there much later. That day was the first day I actually let myself dance. It was the beginning of the end of a disembodied life for me.” –DJ Peter Croce / @petercroce_rsd
There’s a reason for all the Movement pride, no matter your personal music taste — it’s more than an event that’s gained some popularity and critical acclaim. It’s one with global recognition, borne out of a genre that was created here. “Detroit is Techno City, and techno is Black,” Imani Mixon summed it up in a 2018 Metro Times story. The techno story starts near Detroit back in the ‘80s, and now’s a great time to refresh yourself on the Belleville Three — Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May — and the “futuristic and optimistic” sound that’s made history. Keep the nostalgia going with an exhaustive 2010 oral history of the festival. It sounds like the founders themselves weren’t convinced they’d pull it off that first year, but with some last-minute scrambling it came together, bringing out crowds, tourists and then-Mayor Dennis Archer — and bringing techno out of the after hours raves and into the daylight.
And while it’s gone from a DIY, scrappy affair with free entry to a slick production with pricey VIP packages, some things have stayed the same — a set list from the fest in 2000 is full of familiar names.
“In Detroit when you say, ‘I make music,’ the first thing someone asks is, ‘Oh, do you sing?’ The reference point is always Motown or someone you see on TV,” DJ Carl Craig told Resident Advisor about the early days, back in 2010. (He’s also closing out the streaming fest this Monday.) “For a lot of the guys, it was a validation from their parents, their brothers, sisters, cousins. People who were saying, ‘Oh, man, you’re just playing other people’s music. You need to get a real job, you need to work in the factory.’ For them, it was, ‘OK, now I’m DJing in front of 40,000 people. Now what you gotta say?’”
“It was a chance to showcase what we’d been doing for the past 15 years,” DJ Stacey Pullen told Resident Advisor about the first fest. (He closed out the first night of the virtual fest this weekend.) “Us bringing everything home, seeing our families, seeing our local supporters, seeing the city’s skyline. That really meant more than anything because I think the Detroit community had no idea that we’d been traveling around the world as ambassadors for our city, ambassadors for our music, doing interviews about the city as a whole, the spirit of the city.“
The big names, onstage and off:
“Designing the VIP environment for the last nine years has been my favorite moment. I do not know what I am going to do with myself this year. I decorate the green rooms for all the headliners, and it’s fun preparing an environment for them that would be calm and energizing. Usually I am working 20-hour days to get ready, so when the festival starts, I am at home resting. I usually do not attend things, but the few years that stand out for me was when I caught the tail end of the Wu-Tang Clan set. Also the year when I had to prepare the green rooms and do a little bit of security (inadvertently) for Flava Flav. It was pretty memorable. When he arrived at the festival, there was a mob of people around him. It was really hectic but when it was time to perform, he got in the zone right before he hit the stage and killed it. I saw his process unfolding right before my eyes. And Chuck D was so nice and calm while working with him.” —Melinda MeMe / @studiomdetroit
“Going to see Wu-Tang Clan, seeing someone I know that was with the crew and got to watch most of the show from the stage and met them all after. Then we were at the after party at Masonic Temple too.” —Eryka Marie / @erykamarie
“Back in 2012, I volunteered to work the festival. It was one of the most amazing event experiences I’ve ever had. It was the year Public Enemy was the closing act, and Flava Flav went missing just minutes before the show (he was later found eating chicken in the crowd 😂).” —Alex Washington / @alex_washington
“I didn’t know much about Detroit electronic music culture at this point so I was taking it all in. Early in his set Tony Olivera dropped a crazy track with a preacher on it. I started going crazy and I asked this nice man next to me, and he was like, “It’s Green Velvet, man!” Come to find out that man I asked was Big Joe Hix, and the song “Preacher Man” by Green Velvet is one of the most famous house tracks of all time.” –Peter Croce
Movement might not be as glam or Hollywood-adjacent as Coachella, but attendees still dress to the nines. Then there’s the crazy costumes and the familiar faces you see year after year, like Grandma Techno (aka Patricia Lay-Dorsey). Even with the loudest speakers around, Movement at home feels nothing like the real thing without the throngs of people keeping things hype and looking great doing it.
You can try, though, to recreate a little of the festival fashion magic — Paxahau is encouraging people to get into the spirit for the virtual fest by dressing the part (and sharing your style with the hashtag #MovementOOTD).
The people themselves:
“I met my husband at a Bonobo DJ set in Chicago — I lived there, and he lived here. We fell in love over music — especially techno and electronic music. But I was deep in the Chicago scene and didn’t know anything about Detroit. About two months into our relationship, he took me to Movement. I had been to raves, festivals, house parties, but I had never seen anything like Movement. I was instantly transformed, and I fell in love with Detroit. We moved here from Chicago three years later, and I’ve been part of the music scene since, because there’s no other city that has as much heart about its music as Detroit does. Movement made me want to be a resident and I’ll always be so grateful for that.” —Steph Belcher / @stephbelcher
“My very first Movement was amazing for a lot of reasons, but getting to see and meet local artists and see how much an organic part of the community they are made me so happy to be in Detroit.” —Jeni De La O / @jenidelao
“I remember when Movement was referred to as the Techno fest. I was never a fan, but I was negotiating a contract at the UAW-Ford building at Hart Plaza in 2002 and we took a break on the roof. The festival was going on, and it was such a sight to see the people and hear the music. The energy that happens during that festival is purely electric.” —Shawness Woods-Zende
The family-friendly vibes:
“I’ve been going to Movement so long I started bringing my dad. He loves big concerts and even bigger audio equipment being pushed to its limits. I got him acquainted with the production crew and he began volunteering. This would have been his third year volunteering with the crew. He was always running around, moving equipment, helping out. Last year he had about an hour free on Monday evening. We met at the underground stage, and it was absolutely banging (DJ Nobu). We both scooted backstage with our production wristbands and danced together, my 68-year-old dad and me. I think we both cried at some point. The joy was overflowing. I get to share one of my most favorite events of my adult life with my dad. He’s truly one of a kind.” —Ruby Woodward / s.ruby.woodward
And of course… the music, still #1 and ‘so damned Detroit‘:
“One year, my brother Pontchartrain opened up the Sunday of Movement Festival right at 2 p.m. He started his set with what sounded like the intro synth from Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” The kick drum came in so heavy, only it was half-time. It was so blissed out, perfect for hanging out next to the river on a sunny Sunday.… Also, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how epic his 120-minute set is. Pontchartrain is quite the volunteer, involved in many Detroit initiatives. Around that time he was involved with the Detroit Children’s Choir. He decided he wanted to surprise everyone and end his set with Miajica’s edit of Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll’s version of “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In.” It’s haunting, beautiful and a brilliant way to end a daytime set. While the track was playing, the children’s choir came out and joined in on the recording. Pontchartrain faded out the track, only keeping a clap track to help the choir with their tempo, and his set ended with just the children’s choir. It was so beautiful and so powerful, and somehow it never really got written about in all the post-Movement roundups despite being so damned Detroit.” –Peter Croce
Detour’s Alex Washington and Allison Jacobs contributed.